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March 8th, 2020

Public statement re: Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island (XR VI) action at BC Premier John Horgan’s House

On Feb. 18, 2020 members of Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island (XR VI) staged an action at the home of John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia. The stated purpose of the action was to stage a “citizen’s arrest” of John Horgan to show him what it’s like to be arrested in one’s own home. The action was taken in response to the arrests and removal of land defenders on Wet’suwet’en territory. From media reports and our conversation with XR VI members who were at the action, one person knocked on the door and then retreated to the driveway where chanting took place until police cordoned off the area and arrested three people.

Since this action, members of XR Vancouver as well as allies and other community members have expressed concerns over the action.

First, the Sc’ianew First Nation, on whose territory the action took place, has issued a letter asking for an apology from XR Vancouver Island. Although the Sc’ianew First Nation takes no position on the Wet’suwet’en-led anti-CGL actions, Chief Chipps and two councillors say in their letter that appropriate consent was not requested for this action on their territory.

Second, people within XR and outside of it have expressed concern that the action was ill-conceived, and that it was harmful to the Wet’suwet’en cause.

These concerns give those of us who are settlers an opportunity to reflect on what protocols are necessary as we plan actions on unceded lands, even if they are in support of other First Nations that are also struggling to defend their lands. We need to make every effort to obtain consent and follow protocols as laid out by Indigenous leaders (including local hosts on whose land we wish to plan an action), and as laid out by groups requesting solidarity actions (such as the Wet’suwet’en organizers).

Given the diversity within and between Indigenous communities, we recognize that at times, the wishes of nations or groups may conflict with each other (although that wasn’t necessarily the case here), and that consent from one or both may be declined for a variety of different reasons. If an XR group decides to carry out an action in such a situation, we believe it should have a clearly articulated reason for doing so, and take full responsibility for the consequences of that action.

For XR Vancouver, we are focused on building relationships with local Indigenous communities. It is these relationships that have enabled us to understand local protocols, show up in supportive ways, plan for solidarity actions, and be open to criticism when it arises. We have also been deeply honoured by the invitations that have been extended to us to collaborate and share in ceremony. We recognize that not all Indigenous groups and people agree on what appropriate direct action is. We commit ourselves to approaching these relationships according to each nation’s unique laws and protocols. Navigating this is not always easy, but we are committed to doing so as we work towards meaningful and decolonizing allyship. This work is an essential part of seeking climate and ecological justice.

Another concern about this action is the allegation that it entailed harassment of a private citizen. There are different views within our group about whether it is appropriate to stage a protest outside a politician’s home rather than outside their office. Related to the concern about harassment is the concern that this action was not in keeping with Extinction Rebellion’s commitment to non-violence. While no physical contact was made during this action, violence can take many physical and non-physical forms, and people within our group have different views about whether this action – as planned and conducted – was adequately non-violent.

In a decentralized movement like Extinction Rebellion, there will always be actions that take place that not everyone fully agrees with. We recognize that what XR VI intended as theatrical metaphor may be perceived and experienced as intimidating harassment or as violence by others. More importantly, we recognize that the consequences of actions are more relevant than intentions behind them when evaluating whether an action was in fact non-violent. According to reports, John Horgan’s wife was frightened by the action – an understandable reaction when strangers approach your home with the intent to arrest someone who lives there.

Just as we are building relationships with Indigenous communities, we are also working to more actively listen to and respect the voices and perspectives of members of marginalized groups, many of whom have extensive experience with overt and covert forms of violence. Through a commitment to center the perspectives of these members of our movement and our community, we are becoming more sensitive to the potential for or perception of violence in our actions, and thus are becoming better equipped to more thoroughly honour our commitment to non-violence.

The delay in our public response to this event is due in part to our ways of working. We attempt to address things internally through a learning, reflection, and regenerative lens first, and this process takes time. We do not rush to condemn each other. The swift splintering and condemnation of allies when they make mistakes is something we strive to avoid. As we work to address the Climate Emergency confronting all of us, we seek to build relationships with, and strengthen everyone who is attempting to work towards climate and ecological justice.

We are now prepared to issue a public statement about the action at Premier Horgan’s home, and this document captures our reflections and learning to date. First, XR Vancouver was not involved in planning or executing this particular action. Second, members of XR Vancouver have reached out to XR VI, and we have begun a dialogue about the event and their response to it; we support XR VI’s reflection and learning from this action, as we reflect and learn from it as well. Finally, in light of the concerns and reflections noted above, we in XR Vancouver do not condone the action.